Back to Main Page

Mastering Slavery

By: Mr. Ze'ev Ben-Shachar

At the start of Parshat Va’era, Moshe communicates Hashem’s words to Bnei Yisrael, that He shall free them from the burdens of slavery and lead them to the Promised Land; to which their response is only too natural (Perek 6, Pasuk 9):

, -, ,

“But they hearkened not unto Moses for impatience of spirit, and for cruel bondage”.

Put simply, it is as though Bnei Yisrael are saying: “Are you kidding me? Do you really expect us to believe that?” And quite frankly, who can blame them? In the words of Dyonna Ginsburg (who happens to be my beloved wife), “The Israelites, caught in the struggle for daily survival, were unable to appreciate a prophecy of epic proportions[1]”.

It was only after they witnessed, and were saved from, Hashem’s plagues – nine times in a row – that they are able to submit. In Parshat Bo, they finally “bowed the head and worshipped” in response to Hashem’s command that they sacrifice the Passover lamb, and to His prophecy that they will be redeemed from Egypt and delivered to the Promised Land.

It took nine miracles to convince the Israelites to muster enough faith and cooperate. But there was another essential ingredient that made their redemption, or at least the commencement thereof, possible. The missing ingredient, I believe, can be found in Moshe’s humble leadership.

It’s not like Moshe was initially thrilled to take on a leadership role. It’s not like it came to him naturally. He was only ready to take on the task after witnessing the injustice and hopelessness of the Israelites’ solemn predicament in Egypt.  In the words of Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, “it was specifically the internalization of this hopelessness which qualified Moshe to lead, as he identified with the people[2]”.

A true leader is able – in the face of resignation, misery and hopelessness – to generate for himself – and for his people – a sense of hope and meaning.

According to Viktor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist who endured and survived the horrors of Auschwitz, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Frankl argued that it was the people who found meaning in the face of tragedy, who gave away their last piece of bread to help another, that were more likely to survive the concentration camps. Granted, Moshe did not experience physical slavery first-hand – perhaps “only” loneliness and dispossession; but Moshe was blessed with remarkable humility and empathy, and most of all with the authentic experience of Yirat Hashem.

Those are the ingredients of true leadership. And we should hope, B’ezrat Hashem, that we, Am Yisrael, continue to be blessed with this kind of leadership, and, perhaps even take it on in our own lives.

Shabbat Shalom







Back to top